Putting Rosewood to rest

January 21, 2008

In choosing to close the Rosewood Center, the troubled state residential center for the developmentally disabled, Gov. Martin O'Malley made the right call, but the decision does not by itself solve the problem. The real challenge is to find better care for Rosewood's 150 or so residents. Deciding to shut the place down in 18 months is simply the first step in that process.

It's clear the Owings Mills facility has been operating at an unacceptable level for far too long. Deteriorating housing, unsafe conditions, patient-on-patient violence and substandard medical care were among the more common complaints detailed by numerous state inspections.

Advocates for the disabled have wanted Rosewood closed for a long time. But many people who have family members there have been concerned - and understandably so, given the low priority that services to the developmentally disabled have been for state government over the years - that conditions might prove even worse elsewhere.

But times have changed. Experience has demonstrated that the disabled, even those with substantial needs, can usually be better served in a community-based setting than in an institution - if appropriate supervision and support services are provided.

Now it's up to Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers to ensure that the quality of life for Rosewood's clients is not only maintained but improved. For many, that shouldn't be all that tall an order. This year's budget sets aside $20 million for the transition (with much of it coming from the federal government) to assist the process.

But placing the people who were assigned to Rosewood by court order - some of whom are there merely to be evaluated - may not be so easy. Currently, there is no secure alternative to Rosewood for the 13 people who are considered a potential threat to themselves or others.

Transferring them to Jessup's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a facility that houses the state's criminally insane, would not be an acceptable solution, at least under current conditions.

Concerned families need to be assured not only that Rosewood patients will find good homes and quality care in the community but that these facilities will be inspected as rigorously as Rosewood ever was. After all, the point is to make their lives better. Given Rosewood's failures, that's hardly asking too much.

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